MLK Day: Coretta Scott King

Moments after the fatal shooting of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as he stood upon the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee on April 3, 1968, his wife Coretta Scott King’s life would never be the same.  No longer would she be the one walking alongside one, if not the most significant Civil Rights leader in American history.  The loss of her husband could have plunged her into and endless depression.  However, Coretta embraced the legacy of Dr. King, Jr. and lived to make her own mark as a Civil Rights leader.  In our discussion we will see that the life of Coretta Scott King was one of extraordinary faith, fortitude and frailty.

Spring speaks of life with the flowers blooming and birds singing in the joy that winter has ended.  It was during this season and on April 27, 1927 that Bernice McMurray Scott gave birth to Coretta.  Bernice and her husband, Obadiah Scott, who was also known as “Obie,” were farmers and worked hard to provide their children with the best possible education available.  Coretta attended Lincoln High School, a private school in Marion.  Coretta had a passion for music and was very talented.  She was able to learn music and could play several musical instruments by her teenage years.  She took vocal lessons and rose to be very active in her church’s music ministry.  After graduating from High School she attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio where she continued her study of music.  She transferred to Boston’s New England Conservatory of Music in 1951 and it was there that she and a Baptist minister, Martin Luther King, Jr., who was a doctoral candidate met.  They were married on June 18, 1953 at the Scott home in Marion.  Following the wedding they return to Boston where they both completed their degrees.  She received her bachelors in music in 1953.

Coretta’s upbringing and education helped her achieve great faith in God.  She was an anointed musician and her early life stands as a model for many young African American young women to follow.  Not only was Coretta dedicated to her studies and her music but also her   parents were supportive of her goals and ambitions.  When she met King her life of faith was strengthened as she would not become the wife of this young Baptist minister but she would be his partner in sharing the Gospel.  She would often provide the music for worship services.  The Kings would travel around the world to such places as Ghana and India.  Together they made their mark upon humanity as not only promoters of Civil Rights and Social Justice but most importantly as people of faith.  The King’s had four children; Yolanda Denise King born in 1955, Martin Luther King, III born in 1957, Dexter Scott King born in 1961 and Bernice Albertine King born in 1963.  As a young woman, wife, musician, and mother, Coretta was a busy woman.  Her life was one of great faith as she did not accept the tide of discrimination or segregation as the will of God.  She believed in the cause of Civil Rights and Social Justice.  As her faith was tested she proved to be committed to the Lord and was able to be a pillar not only for her children but for many African Americans who needed to know that their cause was not ended when James Earl Ray fired shots in Memphis ending the life of her husband.

Coretta understood that her priority of Christian parenting meant that they would need to be nurtured and carried through their own grief.  She sought to provide her children with a home of much love and protection.  During the days following the assassination of Dr. Marin Luther King, Jr. she would be seen as a mother comforting her heartbroken children.  Though experiencing great pain herself she provided the strength and fortitude needed for her children to continue on and cope with the loss of their father.  Coretta would raise the standard not in retaliation or hate but in peaceful protest against the throng of segregationist and racist.  Though her partner was gone she remained a fortress of unparalleled commitment.  Just after his death she took up the mantle and led in a nonviolent march in Memphis for the sanitation workers.  Her talents, her beauty, her education and her youth could have easily won the heart of many young men.  However, Coretta remained single and did not remarry after the death of King.  Certainly, this proved to be evidence that she was a strong woman that looked at the continued legacy of King as more important than any personal desire to find romantic love with someone else.  Because of her fortitude and decision to remain single she would always be known as the widow of Dr. King. Jr.

As strong as Coretta was, her life was marked with frailty and her life came to an end at the age of 78.  Her body is now at rest alongside her husband in Atlanta beside the Ebenezer Baptist Church.  It was a fitting place for their bodies to be laid to rest.  It was this place that held many memories of not only King but also to Coretta.  His childhood home is located just a few steps away from the church.  And now this area of Atlanta is known as a National Historic Cite in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King.  This was because of Coretta’s work to see a lasting memorial in honor of King.  Truly, her life was one of faith, fortitude and in the end frailty.  Now, that the frailty of Coretta’s body has succumbed to death and her soul is with the Master and Martin, we can see that the mantle has been passed to this generation.  If her life’s work is not in vain then the mantle of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. will not go un-grasped.  It is up to us all who cherish freedom, and equality to make the “Dream” not only live on, but continue its maturity beyond its infancy.  There is a perpetual flame burning at the near the tombs of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta.  The flame is burning not only at the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta, GA, but within the hearts of a new generation.  This is our time to stand when others are sitting.  This is our time to sit when others are standing.  This is our time to love when others are hate.  This is our time to shine when others are hiding.  This is our time to embrace the “Dream” and consciously work toward its maturity as Coretta so embraced her time.

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